Instagram as a Video Game

I am utterly hooked by Instagram, I accept it. I started in February of this year and slowly started to get into it, but now I recognize the typical patterns of a video game sinking its addictive poison into me. You see, Instagram follows a very basic scheme: for every action (posting a photo) you get a scoring reward in return (likes and followers). This might sound like a no-brainer, but this game has its complexities and repeat patterns that generate the satisfaction of advancement.

First there is the editing of the photo outside the app, where previously unkown and boring terms like white contrast or saturation can be adjusted. A good photo and a good edit will generate larger rewards. Secondly there is a hashtags minigame, where the right combination of descriptive words and niche viewing areas like #minimalgangsters or #emptychairsproject will net you niche likes. Thirdly, the high scores. Once you establish a gallery (more than 20 or 30 photos with a certain comprehensive style), you will start gaining followers. This is where the tier system starts to play into the game. The leaderboards begin with the low numbers of 10, 30, 50 followers who are mostly friends and family, but once it breaks into the hundreds the game accelerates. Comments are also part of the secret sauce that reinforces the addiction loop, where most other users/players will return a comment and perhaps visit your gallery with more likes in their wake. Contests, daily photo forums and special hashtags will generate achievements, for example winning Photo of the Day in the #childrensphoto hashtag where other users vote among photos of finalists.

This combination of elements provides the advancement in the game. Expert users will start to break in to the Big Leagues, like being featured on the #jj forums, where more than 150,000 people visit, vote and comment. Counts of thousands of followers will ensure. At this stage of the game, one is deep enough to note that some users have a magical k behind their follower number, maybe 10k or even 50k. I have met a couple with 150k, which is tremendous once you realize that this is not a score number but a head count of actual people following the particular user. For some, the ultimate prize may be a feature on the Suggested Users list, a list selected by the dungeon masters at Instagram headquarters. This list basically means that the user on it will automatically will be seen by thousands of new followers every day, adding to his account maybe 3, 5 or 7k daily for two weeks.

In short, I am in love with IG. There is a very clear and strong community that slowly builds around your photos, there is reinforcement on every single photo taken and there is a sense of achievement and wonder at the super talented users and incredible photos posted. Unfortunately, there is also my angry wife glaring at me for asking time for just one more edit, one more photo to post honey... with a basic message in her eyes: "Why don´t you ask your IG buddies for your dinner!". Just like a video game.

If you are in IG, check out my gallery at @macroe and drop me a comment!